Mexico after the 19S Earthquake: Civil Society (Lawyers Included) at Its Best

5 10 2017

Source: Proceso Magazine, Mexico 2017

Earthquakes are horrible events:

the ground where we stand—the one safety we take for granted—shakes under us. Even mild quakes leave a mark on those who live them. Especially in Mexico. Particularly in Mexico City and central Mexico.

A powerful seism shook central Mexico on September 19, 2017. The known death toll is 369. Mexico City and the neighboring states of Morelos and Puebla suffered great damage. The epicenter of the quake was inland, and not in the Pacific Ocean as most of Mexico’s seism originate. An added cruelty to the event, it coincided with the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 quake, which was 30 times more powerful and several times deadlier than this year’s. Mexicans showed their best face in front of the adversity.

This time, as in 1985, the response of the civil society to the quake to the #19S (September/19) was spontaneous, powerful and heroic, with people of all walks of life organizing themselves to dig in collapsed buildings to rescue the survivors. Massive human chains removed and discarded cement and rubble, tirelessly. Small hardware store owners donated their inventory to the volunteers so they could dig and drag. Tamales vendors gave food away to the unexpected heroes who participated in the task.

Students—from public and private schools and universities, working hand–in–hand—improvised donation centers and delivered food and supplies in bicycles; truckloads of help were sent from every corner of the country.

Even rescue dogs became unexpected heroes: Frida, Evil and Eco saved lives and lifted the spirit of a nation–#TodosSomosFrida became a trending topic in Twitter Mexico.

Mexicans abroad helped too, with money and in kind. 27 countries have assisted too, with money, supplies and in some cases, sending rescue teams too.

During the first hours after the event, the reaction of the Federal and local governments was inadequate; then the professionals of disaster relief, the Mexican armed forces, deployed their troops and worked side by side with the many volunteers.

Professionals have contributed too: engineers evaluate the habitability of damaged buildings, for free; doctors and nurses were natural first responders, whether they were on duty or not. Lawyers are doing their part:

  • Centro Mexicano Pro Bono, a non–profit where Appleseed, the Mexican Bar of Attorneys and others collaborate, published a legal guide for the victims of the seism, and are providing free consultations on issues as tenancy law and real estate.
  • The Illustrious and National College of Lawyers, Universidad Panamericana—my alma mater— and the College of Notaries are offering free legal advice
  • A group of activists, academics, businesspersons and lawyers, led by attorney Luis Pérez de Acha, filed a criminal complaint for manslaughter and fraud against public officials and the builders of some of the complexes that collapsed. Corruption is many times on the background of most problems and tragedies in Mexico: some of the buildings that fell were apparently built with lesser quality materials, others had illegal billboards, extra floors or, in one instance, a heliport that lacked the proper permits. Mr. Pérez de Acha and others are putting pressure on the Attorney General of Mexico City to investigate.
  • Hundreds of lawyers are helping pro bono in a smaller scale

Mexico stands tall. I feel proud to be a Mexican. We shall overcome the adversity. And to all who helped: GRACIAS!

NY courts to require 50 hours of pro bono work before getting licensed. How about foreign-educated lawyers taking the bar exam?

2 05 2012

(This post is not about Mexican law, but deals with the New York bar exam, and how it could affect foreign-trained lawyers (FELs) that traditionally sit to take the exam (I was one of the nervous, exhausted FELs that took it in 2007).)

The ABA Journal reported that New York will require “would-be lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono before they can get a law license.” NY will take the lead in the pro bono debate with the measure, as reported by the New York Times. The prestigious newspaper endorsed the measure in one editorial.

We know lawyers generously provide thousands of pro bono hours, all over the country, in several different areas of law. Noting on the importance of the topic, the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division’s  acclaimed magazine, GP Solo, dedicated their January/February 2012  issue to that topic. On it. I even proposed that pro bono work is not only good for the soul, but also good for business (Mexican masked warrior photo included).

The forthcoming new New York rule on pro bono, in my opinion, is good, and pretty common in other countries (in Mexico, for example, all college students -not just lawyers- must perform 480 hours of community work to graduate and get licensed!).

However, I wonder how will this new yet to be drafted rule work for foreign-educated lawyers (FELs) sitting for the NY bar exam.

NY is one of the most generous states when it comes to letting FELs sit for the bar exam. The NY bar allows law graduates from common law tradition countries to take for the bar exam, without much trouble. Law graduates from non-common law countries can also sit for the exam if they earn an LLM at an ABA-accredited law school.

Would FELs be required to complete their 50 pro bono hours during their LLM (it is plausible)? How about those FELs from common-law foreign countries that do not have to take classes (LLM) in US soil? Will the pro bono hours done at their countries (if any) count towards the 50 hours now to be required in NY?

The new rule on pro bono, in my opinion, is good. As an attorney first licensed in Mexico and then, after an LLM at UHLC, in New York, I appreciate the state’s openness to allow foreign trained lawyers to test their capabilities by sitting to take the bar exam. Hopefully NY courts will include in their new pro bono rule some option for FELs.

My Article on Pro Bono & Why It Is Good for Business (picture of El Santo included)

2 02 2012

The Good Fight is Good Business (Photograph by Gerardo Almaguer)

ABA’s GP Solo Magazine was kind enough to publish on their Jan./Feb. 2012 issue a brief article of mine on why doing pro bono work is not only good for the soul, but also good for business. And it includes a picture of El Santo, Mexico’s most-famous wrestler.

Here is the text:

The Good Fight is Good Business

El Santo (Spanish for “The Saint”) was Mexico’s most famous masked professional wrestler and one of its biggest cultural icons from his professional debut in the 1940s until his death in 1984. He was also a big movie and comics star, fighting against vampires, monsters, zombies and foreign secret agents. The legend of El Santo is still alive in Mexico. Yet El Santo was no Saint: he made his rivals suffer on the ring and in his movies and comics, and his character was often portrayed as a jet–setter living the nightlife. 

Like El Santo, I am no Saint. I am a solo practicing immigration and Mexican law in Houston, TX. And although I performed many hours of pro bono work, it was not pure altruism. In the process of undertaking these many (many) hours of  pro bono service, I received tangible and intangible benefits.

There are many reasons to do our share of work pro bono public (for the good of the public): giving back to society, helping the needy, making an impact on the lives of the recipients of our pro bono efforts, and, in the words of Jack Eisenstein, a fellow member of the ABA’s SoloSez e–mail listserve, “that fuzzy feeling you get from helping people and using your skill set for the forces of good.”

I would add one more motivation to the list: It is good for business. And I don’t mean as a bragging tool (the way some firms use it) but as a source of experience, networking, referrals and goodwill among recipients of the pro bono service.

I do most of my pro bono work through the Consulate General of Mexico in Houston. I sometimes give workshops on immigration law to Mexican nationals on the premises of the Consulate, and I regularly offer legal orientation to the public (also in the Consulate building) on immigration and Mexican law matters.  This commitment to the community serves my professional practice in several ways.

What do you get for your practice?

  • A source of referrals and goodwill. Pro bono work is a great, free marketing tool. Pro bono clients are generally thankful for the attorney that listened to them and offered a piece of advice, and most of them will recommend you with family and acquaintances who need a lawyer.
  • Some paying clients. Some of those who do not qualify for free representation under the guidelines of the host organization or need help beyond the scope of the pro bono service offered may retain your services.
  • Practice opportunities. Some of the most challenging cases I had to study came from pro bono clients. On occasion, the complexity calls for study and creative thinking for finding a viable solution.
  • Access to more experienced attorneys. It is likely that other lawyers working at the same or similar institution where you do your pro bono will be more than willing to share knowledge and advice. This may prove more valuable to new lawyers, but it is sure to be helpful to more seasoned attorneys as well.

Doing pro bono work is a win–win for all parties involved: The public gets quality legal guidance from a committed professional; the host organization fulfills its goals; and we, the lawyers offering our time and talents make a difference one client at a time.

Once you decide to do some type of pro bono work, how do you get started?

  1. Define what type of pro bono service you would like to sign up for: a project directly in your practice area, one involving a type of law you may be interested in developing later, or even a collaboration in an area la law you had a passion for but never developed for varied reasons.
  2. Research organizations in your area that regularly work with attorneys doing pro bono work: local bar associations, charities, law schools, NGOs. Then think outside the box (e.g., consulates are always in need of pro bono lawyers willing to assist their nationals). The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service has an extensive, state–by–state, directory of pro bono programs (130 institutions are listed as of August 30, 2011), and is available at
  3. Make a plan that includes an estimate of pro bono hours you are willing to put in. Do not overreach. Beyond all the positives of pro bono work, we still have to make a living.
  4. Approach your target organization. Ask for their mission, rules and requirements, support and expectations. Announce your goals and needs.
  5. Start your pro bono service. Commit and deliver. Be ready to immerse yourself in a rewarding and enriching journey.

Pro bono work is good for the soul, good for business, good for society, and good for the recipient. And sainthood is not a requirement.

You can read The Good Fight is Good Business here.

Thank you, GP Solo Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Allen, Ass’t Director and Issue Editor Joshua Paulin, and Editor Robert Salkin.

Mexico’s Supreme Court Has Its 11th Member (Finally)

11 02 2011
Jorge Mario Pardo Rebolledo

Jorge Mario Pardo Rebolledo, Newly Elected SCJN's Ministro

The Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN), Mexico’s highest court, has been very active lately. And they finally have a replacement for late Ministro José de Jesús Gudiño Pelayo (a Ministro is Mexico’s equivalent to a SCOTUS’ Justice). This Thursday, the Senado de la República (almost no need to translate it as Senate) picked the 11th and newest Supreme Court Ministro, Mr. Jorge Mario Pardo Rebolledo. Mr. Pardo Rebolledo has been a Magistrado de Tribunal Colegiado de Circuito (in U.S. terms, a Federal Circuit Judge).

The lack of its 11th member drove the Supreme Court to several tied votes both in Plenary sessions (5-5 vote) and in the First Chamber (2-2 vote), in which Ministro Gudiño Pelayo was a member. Mexico’s Supreme Court is composed of 11 Ministros, which hear cases in Plenary Sessions (all 11 included) or in one of two Chambers (composed of 5 Ministros each; the Ministro Presidente (Mexico’s counterpart to the SCOTUS Chief Justice) is not part of either Chamber.

(In the case of the Plenary sessions, the newly elected Ministro Presidente of the SCJN,  Juan Silva Mesa, refused to issue a casting vote as a way of pressuring the Executive and Legislative branches to name a new Ministro; the most noticeable case was on the validity of challenging amendments to the Constitution “if and when unconstitutional on themselves.”)

Mexico’s method for designating new members of the Supreme Court shows a fine balance of powers, described with precision in article 96 of the Constitución Política de los Estados Mexicanos (CPEUM, the Mexican Federal Constitution): the Executive proposes 3 candidates to the Senate, who can choose 1 –by a qualified 2/3 super-majority) or reject all 3. If the Senate fails to choose 1 or reject all 3 candidates within 30 days after receiving the proposal, the President can freely pick 1 among the 3.

If the Senate rejects the first 3 candidates, the President then proposes 3 new ones, and the Senate has the same 2 options, but if fails to pick 1, the Executive can freely name it among the candidates included on the second list as new Ministro.

Ministro Gudiño Pelayo passed away on 09.19.10 while vacationing in London. Later in December, President Calderon sent an all-female candidate proposal to the Senate, who rejected them all in due course. President Calderon sent a new proposal on January to the Senate (the new proposal was composed of 3 male judges); had they failed to pick a new Ministro this time, Calderon would have had free hands to choose 1 among the second 3 candidates.

Now with a full Court, I look forward to see the discussion and vote on whether amendments to the Constitution can be unconstitutional-a matter of the chicken or the egg.

[Check also recent decisions of the SCJN and a Circuit Court, in issues ranging from taxes on cashiers’ checks considered as cash, independent right of non-cohabitant parents to exercise parental rights, constitutionality of considering lawyers better than public accountants in the Armed Forces (not really), blessing for seizure of property for non-cooperative tax payers and condoning fines,  and in the case of a Circuit Court, the rejection on overturning the 60 years sentence on French citizen Florence Cassez]

My latest article on Mexican law published on ABA’s GP Solo Law Trends & News

20 10 2010

ABA's General Practice, Solo & Small Division

My latest article on Mexican law is up on ABA’s GP Solo Law Trends & News“the Division’s practice area newsletter. Published quarterly, it is packed with articles, checklists and other valuable substantive, practical tips and information of benefit to the members of our Division.”


Mexico’s Supreme Court Orders States to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages and Adoptions of Minors by Such Couples

By Ignacio Pinto-Leon

Earlier in August of this year, Mexico’s highest court, the Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation), paved the road to all–states recognition of same–sex marriages and adoptions of minors made by such married couples. From now on, validly executed marriages and adoptions in Mexico City—either by same or different sex couples—shall be recognized as valid in all states of the country.

Currently, only the Federal District (Mexico City) performs same–sex marriages—and only one state (Coahuila) and the Federal District provides for same–sex civil unions. But thanks to a 9–2 decision by the Supreme Court, all 31 states of Mexico have to give full effects to such marriages and adoptions, due in part to Mexico’s Full Faith & Credit Clause of article 121.IV of the Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Political Constitution of the Mexican United States); the Court also based its decision on the equal rights clause of Mexico’s Constitution.

The Supreme Court’s opinion is still to be published—but the text is nowavailable on its webpage; the debates were transmitted live via web and cable TV and closely followed by the public and press, and the transcripts of the debates are available at the Mexico’s Supreme Court’s website.

The case came to the Supreme Court of Mexico via constitutional challenge made by the Procuraduría General de la República (Mexico’s Attorney General Office) to amendments to the local Civil Code and other laws of Mexico City enacted by the Assembly of Representatives of the Federal District—the local legislative body for Mexico City. The Attorney General alleged that the new law violated the legislature’s duty to protect families, failed to protect the children’s best interest and attacked federalism. All arguments were found invalid in due course by the Supreme Court.

Mexico’s Suprema Corte made a direct interpretation of article 121.IV –Full Faith & Credit Clause – of Mexico’s Constitution. The Mexican version of the Full Faith & Credit Clause is more detailed and extended than the one in article IV.1 of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by U.S. courts to date.

Article 121.IV of the Mexican Constitution establishes that “[all] acts related to the civil status [of individuals] executed in accordance to the laws of one state shall be valid in the others.” Marriage and adoptions are clearly acts of such nature.

[On a note irrelevant to this article but crucial to attorneys licensed to practice in Mexico (as myself), article 121 also command states to recognize professional titles and licenses issued validly in any state or Mexico City: this nicety of the Mexican constitution means once a lawyer – and other professionals – are admitted to one jurisdiction, we’re admitted to all!]

The Supreme Court held—in a legally–impeccable argument—that this constitutional mandate extends to and includes same–sex marriages and adoption of minors by same–sex married couples, therefore ordering states to recognize such acts if validly executed in Mexico City, just as if celebrated within their territory. The lack of similar marriages or adoptions in a particular state was not to be an obstacle to their recognition.

The argument used by the Supreme Court in Mexico is similar to those advanced by many in the United States, such as Harvard Professor Joseph Singer and others in the context of the Full Faith & Credit clause of article IV.1 of the U.S. Constitution. It will ultimately be up to the American Supreme Court to define whether the Full Faith & Credit compels all states within the U.S. to give legal effects to same-sex marriages executed in one of the states that allow it. If they do so, it may probably happen in similar terms to those set up by their Mexican counterpart in the instant case.

The Supreme Court of Mexico got it right on its interpretation of the Mexican Full Faith & Credit clause of its Constitution. The amended Civil Code of the Federal District provides for same–sex marriages and allows same–sex married couples to adopt minors. States consequently have an obligation to recognize and give full effects to such marriages and adoptions within their territory – regardless of their particular position on the issue. And Mexico City’s legislature got it right too by granting equal rights to same–sex couples in marriage and adoption matters.


The GP Solo Division Fall Meeting and 2010 National Solo and Small Firm Conference take place in Austin this week.

The 2010 National Solo & Small Firm Conference is this week in Austin, TX


PS. Visit Austin. It really is a fantastic place.